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RENCKEN: 2013 US GP wrap

2013-11-18 09:04

'IT'S NOT LIKE I'M GETTING BORED': Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel earns his eighth consecutive win at the 2013 US GP.


What a difference a year makes: where Austin’s inaugural race proved one of the 2012 season’s highlights, the 56-lap sophomore edition was tedium deluxe, arguably being the most boring grand prix to date during one of the most predictable seasons in recent history.


True, Sebastian Vettel’s pole-to flag-victory - his lead interrupted only by a single pit stop reshuffle for a swap from Mediums to Hards at exactly half distance - provided Red Bull's record- stretching quadruple champion with yet another notch on his bedstead, namely that of first driver to score eight consecutive victories in a single season.

For the rest the race at the swoopy Circuit of the Americas situated 15km south of Austin, Texas is best forgotten. The reason for the stark contrast between events is not only easy to find, but highly illuminating, for it illustrates much of what is wrong with present-day F1, namely that car performance, driver skill and track design count for nought and unusual circumstances make all the difference.

In 2012 the track’s macadam was brand spanking new and smooth, being extremely oily as a result. The gooey surface was ultra-slippery, but more to the point degradation on both the specified Medium and Hard compounds was low to the point of virtual non-existence, enabling winner Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) and Vettel to race to the flag without interruption.

This kept the 2012 chase open, for championship challenger Fernando Alonso finished third for Ferrari, taking the title bout down to the wire in Brazil.

This time, though, both titles were done and dusted a month ago, with Alonso all but confirmed as runner-up, so the magic has gone out of the championship. Thus it was just another race, one that saw Vettel on pole ahead of team mate Mark Webber. Again.

On the grid the betting was not on the winner, but on the final gap between the German and Australian. Yes, the latter finished third, providing the only surprise of the weekend, but only after Romain Grosjean once again punched way above the weight of his Lotus team to finish just six seconds adrift of the winner, who admittedly rolled back whenever the gap stretched above ten seconds.


Vettel said: “It’s not as if I am getting bored. I have quite a lot to do, looking at the gaps; I have to match their pace.

“When they come closer it is not the best feeling. You want the gap to increase always, you don't want it to become smaller.”

Grosjean is undoubtedly the most improved driver of the 2013 season, having shed his Wildman approach. Whether the fact that he became a father in August calmed the rookie is an open question in the paddock; whatever, he has changed for the (much) better, and it shows.

In the absence of Kimi Raikkonen, recovering from surgery for a recurring back injury after the Finn and Lotus fell out spectacularly, Grosjean, who made the best start of all to move from third on the grid to the second he would hold all the way to the flag, rose magnificently to the challenge of leading the team, in the process giving his burgeoning reputation another welcome boost.

Grosjean said: “We were copying what Webber was doing. When he was pitting for hard tyres, we pitted for hard tyres; if he was pitting for prime or option. In the race I was just trying to make as much gap as I could before the DRS zone.

“I think the closest he was into Turn 12 was probably ten meters. [Webber] pushed me wide once because I outbraked myself but as long as he didn't seem to be too big in the mirror that was fine.”

A year ago there was no love lost between the two – Webber had branded Grosjean a “first lap lunatic” after their collision in Japan - but this time Mark, who dropped to fourth in the opening lap melee before reclaiming a position with a sublime move on Hamilton Lap 13, was full of praise for his opponent.

Webber said: “Romain drove a very good race, he was very strong in the last part of the first sector which you need to be to get out of there. It's super-super difficult to stay close. I did what I could for most of the time, but the tyres scream at you lap after lap, and you have to drop back, give them a breather, go again…”

Fourth went to Hamilton, the Mercedes driver making the most of a new chassis after his team discovered a crack in his old tub.


Hamilton said: “The car was night and day different compared to where it was in Abu Dhabi, so I'm sure the new tub helped.

“To finally have a half decent qualifying, move forward, utilise the tyres and have life left in them, makes me really, really happy.”
Alonso placed fifth ahead of Sauber’s fourth-starting Nico Hulkenberg, who once again put in an impressive race, having qualified then run ahead of Alonso until 10 laps from the end in a car powered by an identical Ferrari engine.

Seventh belonged to Sergio Perez, the Mexican, advised earlier this week he was being dropped by McLaren in favour of rookie Kevin Magnussen, performing heroically in front of tens of thousands of his countrymen who made the (minimum) 400km trek to Austin. He trounced team-mate Jenson Button, who is being retained by McLaren, and his smile spoke of the sweetness of his revenge.

Valtteri Bottas scored his first career points with eighth place for Williams, the rookie having incurred the wrath of (departing) team mate Pastor Maldonado by out-qualifying him, who immediately accused his team of having sabotaged his car…

Ninth and tenth places went to Rosberg and Button respectively, both drivers hanging their heads after being comprehensively out-raced by their team-mates. Yes, Button suffered after damaging his front wing in a first-lap scrap with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa – another driver to post a disappointing qualifying and race performances – but, when all is said and done, the Briton had qualified only 13th (starting 15th after a penalty carried over from Abu Dhabi) to Perez’s seventh.

Thus the 56-lap race ran out after an hour and 40 minutes, and not a second too soon. Will next Sunday in Brazil be any more stimulating? Well, afternoon rain showers are not unknown in Sao Paulo at this time of year, but if they don’t materialise the current V8s, which in 2014 make way for eco-friendly V6 turbo units, will go out with a whimper…

Read more on:    red bull  |  us gp  |  motorsport  |  racing  |  f1

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